Tuesday, September 1, 2009

unaccustomed breaths: first impression

after a long few days of traveling (and a night out in singapore), we made it to jakarta!

my head is still catching up to my physical body which is on java, one of indonesia's 17,000 islands. i am not genetically predisposed to living around the equator...every second i step outside my clothes drink up the humid air and start to stick to my skin...two minutes later, i am a walking sweat rag. yummy. the streets are constantly singing belligerent songs and the local people seem to enjoy their melodies as they go about the day. i find myself wanting to blend in quickly.

the past few days we have had orientation with the fulbright comission and finally met Nellie (our fulbright senior program advisor) and Mike McCoy (the executive director of the AMINEF). we have gone through health issues, safety issues, random issues, issue issues...we also get coffee breaks, which is super exciting.

it struck me today, as i was listening to mr. mccoy try to inconspicuously make up the lecture on the spot, what fundamental part of this program could really use some adjustment. after he gave us the melody for the walla ice cream bike song (haha pete), he began to explain how the the students at our school will most likely be awful at speaking english. apparently, most english teachers in indonesia do not speak english either. thus, the students proficiency levels are abysmal as well.

i am excited about teaching and bringing in new teaching methodologies to the classroom but
my question to mr.mccoy was why are we starting to assist and teach at the high school level?

in psychology and biology, the existence of a critical period is an accepted and documented phenomenon (e.g. imprinting in birds and rats). this notion has led to some significant research in the area of language acquistion, where the theory of a critical period in language acquisiton has been presented. linguist eric lennenberg proposed and populaized the critical period hyphothesis in area of language acquisition.

laymans summary of hypo: language emerges between the ages of 2-4 (many theories as to HOW this occurs--is language innate and learned? because of the research done at IU and the studies ive come across, i say innate but i digress...)...between 3 and puberty language acquistion of primary language/languages continue to flourish and solidify. the tools of language--syntax, phonology, semantics, prgamatics, morphology--have been mastered. if this mastery does not occur with atleast ONE language prior to puberty, language cannot be learned.

obviously there are only a few case-studies where this type of scenario has occured and was used for research, such as Genie. Genie was found at the age of about 14-- she had been neglected and locked in a closet for the vast majority of her life. after she was found, she tried to learn language and was able to learn vocabulary very well but only put together basic two or three word sentences. her grammar and morphology never fully reached that of a fluent speaker. oen possible arugument that could be made against this claim is that Genie's brain and neurological processes had atrophied due to physical and psychological abuse which led to slower language learning...i dont know enough about the Genie case to comment on it--but along with Genie's case, there are a myriad of other research studies suggesting the validity of such a period.

and then there is expereiene...because we all know if we "grew up" speaking two or three languages at home, we automatically can speak these languages much easier as adults.

implications for the program and point of ramble? --> english teaching assistants should target elementary schools. english as a second language would be absorbed much more efficiently if children learned it at an earlier age--especially since the grant is for a significant amount of the indonesian school year.

mr. mccoy said that this type of restructure was simply not possible at this time due to bureaucratic hurdles. he did mention, however, that the ETA program to korea targets elementary schools. maybe in a few years an adjustment could be made and some ETAs could be sent to elementary schools. who knows?

i mean, doctors like to practice medicine based off of research...speech-pathologists prefer evidence-based practice...english teachers in foreign countries should not limit their scope of research to just teaching methods but to first and second language research findings as well.

on another note,
i am in my own hotel room with a kitchen and internet with a view of jakarta sprawled out under me. the balcony door is open and the the smell of stagnant sewage water is wafting through.
everyone here is honestly so chill and awesome. ive had belly laughs everyday...mixed in with random serious intense conversation every couple hours. we are here in jakarta until friday and then we go to bandung for bahasa indonesia lessons for a few weeks :) hopefully we all wont fall asleep tonight at 9p.m. so we can check out the jakarta ex-pat scene.

today after morning orientation we went to menteng where there is an antique bazaar.

i miss my parents n brosef. and my ladoo. but i am so happy! and feel so lucky to be here.

"the world outside your window"

cold showers during balmy nights,

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